Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Dr. Paul J. Fink Was Champion for People with Mental Illness

Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Dr. Paul J. Fink Was Champion for People with Mental Illness

Article excerpt

Dr. Paul J. Fink, a longtime Clinical Psychiatry News columnist and editorial adviser, and leader in the field of psychiatry, died June 4. He was 80.

Dr. Fink, a psychotherapist, psychiatry professor, and speaker, was a compassionate advocate for his beloved specialty.

"I have been an activist most of my life," he wrote. "Part of my role and that of other physicians is to help those less fortunate."

He took that role seriously. For example, he worked to prevent child abuse and the treatment of trauma. He was a true believer in the findings of the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, which showed that life experiences such as childhood maltreatment are major risk factors for the leading causes of death and illness in the United States. He called this study "the most important proof of the validity of one of the major building blocks of psychoanalysis."

In recent years, Dr. Fink advocated on behalf of men serving life sentences at the State Correctional Institution at Graterford, Pa., a maximum security prison. "Some psychiatrists fail to speak up because they are afraid that their visibility will scare patients away," he wrote. "But being only concerned with self allows ... injustices to continue."

Many of his writings--and much of his work--focused on the need to change the language to make it less stigmatizing toward people with mental illness. "Patients need to be referred to as people with schizophrenia rather than schizophrenics," he wrote.

"It is wrong to identify the patient as the disease. Rarely, if ever, would we refer to a person as a 'coronary' or an 'appendix.'"

When Dr. Fink served as president of the American Psychiatric Association, he chose the defeat of stigma as his theme. Just last year, he said that of the hundreds of articles he wrote over the years, the one he valued most was based on a talk delivered at an American College of Psychiatrists meeting called "The enigma of stigma" (Psychiatr. Ann. 1983;669-90).

In addition to his clinical and volunteer work, Dr. Fink was a professor of psychiatry at Temple University in Philadelphia. Among other activities, Dr. Fink was a member of the Leadership Council on Child Abuse & Interpersonal Violence, a founding member of the Philadelphia Youth Violence Reduction Partnership Program, and chairman of the city's Youth Homicide Committee. He chaired three departments of psychiatry in his career and received numerous awards, including the APA/National Institute of Mental Health Vestermark Psychiatry Educator Award and the Francis J. …

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